In 100 Untold Stories – which began streaming online on Thursday – the Cork singer-songwriter enjoys an entertaining conversation with English novelist and West Cork resident David Mitchell, in the beautiful setting of De Barra’s Folk Club in Clonakilty.
Topics up for discussion include Spillane’s latest album, 100 Snow White Horses, as well as writing, renewing the bardic tradition, and why A-minor is the best chord.
“I see the music as being in service to the words, and I see the words as the big challenge, and the magic,” Spillane tells the Cloud Atlas author.
“It’s a trick of the mind, really. I see the music as the fun bit, and I don’t worry about that in any way. That’s just pure pleasure and joy.”
The two men are in top form throughout this 80-minute film, with Mitchell clearly a fan, enchanted as Spillane plays songs from the new record. Both take joy in discussing history, metaphor, folklore, mythology, and the creative process.
Describing his Wilton childhood as “a paradise”, Spillane reveals he has lied for years about the first single he ever bought. (It wasn’t, as he has claimed, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Nothing Rhymed, but you’ll have to watch the film to learn the truth.) Spillane recalls as a teenager learning the entire Simon and Garfunkel songbook on a two-stringed guitar, and he demonstrates with a snatch of Kathy’s Song, “I hear the drizzle of the rain” sounding as plaintive in Spillane’s uncompromising Cork accent as ever it did in Paul Simon’s New Jersey drawl.
Spillane and Mitchell are both fascinated with the art of writing. As Spillane ends a rendition of Billy in the Sky – written for a helicopter pilot named Billy, and also for Spillane’s late father – he says “We’ve so much to learn, don’t we, about the writing, all the time?”
Mitchell replies thoughtfully that, ideally, the best jobs are always infinite, where you never finish learning. “If you can find one, and spend your life doing it, if there is a secret to happiness in life, it’s possible that’s a part of it.”
John Spillane has rarely seemed happier in his own infinite job, and he and David Mitchell obviously had a whale of a time making this charming film.
- 100 Untold Stories: A Film with John Spillane and David Mitchell is available to stream on debarra.ie until 11.30pm, June 7. Tickets €15